Thursday, 15 October 2015

On Fracking

On Fracking by C. Alexia Lane
2013, Rocky Mountain Books, 127 pages.


This is a helpful little hardcover written not in a biased way but with an examining look at the issues. Although it is just a tiny book, one you could slip into your pocket and bring along to the office or the next commute, it looks at “the potential contamination of groundwater source; the potential ecotoxicological effects from fracking, climate change and water management initiatives; and the bioengineering of organisms to enhance shale gas extraction.” Opening with a little history of the story of oil in North America, C. Alexia Lane does a commendable job of discussing the development of this industry, new drilling technologies, and the arrival of Rachel Carson and her book Silent Spring 1962 in a section usefully called, “That Was Then.” “Section “This Is Now,” leads into industry interest in the highly controversial method called fracking,“multi-stage hydraulic fracturing of underground rock strata in conjunction with direct drilling- downward, then horizontally or at an angle into the desired formation” using high-pressure chemically-mixed water, involving flow back fluid that slowly returns the chemical cocktail of contaminants and water to the surface, over the course of months. Because it involves what some might call the environmentally suicidal mixing of chemicals into our precious groundwater, industry and everyday citizen alike acknowledge that “fracking threatens the integrity of both our surface water and our groundwater sources.” An industry with a massive lack of regulatory policies regarding contamination, the fracking industry suffers from a lack of understanding about our groundwater, and our species in general suffers from a lack of understanding regarding the future impact of this somewhat experimental new method. Not one to present the reader with recent images of chemically-mixed water issuing from kitchen taps that is actually flammable, C. Alexia Lane focuses on discussing the huge amount of ground water used in this process in an era when all clean water requires protection. Water management is made complicated by the way it is governed, because it is not “based on hydrological connectivity” but is governed at thew moment by piecemeal legislation and regulation. Conflicts occur most frequently when it flows across man-made boundaries, something both surface and groundwater inevitably does. Lane examines some of the better and most intelligent policies and proposals never put in place, and informs us that Canada requires strong new laws protecting water governance that are similar in design to American laws if we are not to risk the wholesale destruction of our water table. Not only laws, cautions Lane, but a need for a national framework, is extremely pressing. While in the United States there are laws overseen and enforced by federal bodies, Canada is beginning to appear to the U.S. as if it is relying upon industry to self-regulate, an absurd situation. Lane examines a case study in Alberta and one in Texas: places where fracking because there is already a water scarcity is creating havoc. In Texas, freshwater resources are dwindling, making drought a new issue in which fracking contamination now plays a role. Interestingly, “acute and chronic components of many individual fracking fluid components have been documented” but not the cocktail of fluid in combination with local geology. With no long term data, stringent measures are needed fast, and, because of the soluble nature of fracking chemicals, it is considered technically not possible to clean this water, and impossible to consider with any advance in future technology the remediating of our precious and ancient groundwater to anything like its original state. As well, groundwater becomes vitally important to our survival as secure clean surface water harder dwindle and change. While proponents of fracking argue that the drilling process goes past groundwater to deeper sites, the book explains that while much fracking goes to depths that pass through potable groundwater, (and some fracking even occurs on the same depth as groundwater) that deep drilling only causes the contaminant cocktail to rise back to the surface after passing up through the pristine groundwater table from below. Lane refers to the issue of water management as “time-sensitive”and states that citizens must participate in encouraging the appropriate implementation of legislation to protect our freshwater. Vermont has banned fracking, North Carolina is “demonstrating the precautionary principle” and other places are well-advised to follow this example. British Columbia and Alberta require enforcement of public disclosure of chemical ingredients in fracking fluid, there is a moratorium of fracking in Quebec, and a full ban on fracking in Nova Scotia until 2014 is being challenges by industry now. Because of the vital and ancient nature of groundwater, Lane states, “we all have stake in protecting its integrity.” However, “in the face of extensive fracking operations across the continent,” this will require considerable focus and Lane directs that “we must be steadfast and vigilant to achieve our water preservation objectives.” Closing with extensive notes and references, the book is optimistic about the urgent need for legislation, transparency and the outright banning of certain procedures in order to defend ancient underground water, as well as massive amount of surface water, from industrial contamination. Remarks Lane, “the power resides within each of us and all of us together.”